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Summer of Planets 2016

Topic: Planets
Article Published - May 20, 2016
by Dr. Jim Lattis, Director, UW Space Place
September Night Sky

For much of the coming summer we will have three bright planets in our evening sky: Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn. Jupiter has been the herald of the procession since spring and has been prominent in the southern sky, with the constellation Leo in the background, as the brightest nighttime object, aside from the Moon and occasional flyovers of the International Space Station. Look for the waxing crescent Moon to coast just south of Jupiter on the evening of 9 July. (The illustration shows a typical night in midsummer around 10:30 p.m.)

Farther south (i.e. closer to the southern horizon) and eastward of Jupiter (see illustration) it is easy to pick out Mars, which will be biggest and brightest in late May and early June, while in the constellation Libra. And trailing Mars farther to the east is Saturn, also near its biggest and brightest in early June. However, all three planets will be in the evening sky well into August, when we will lose Jupiter in the western sunset. Meanwhile it is a perfect time to get out a telescope or visit an observatory for some serious planet watching.

Remember that summer sunsets come late, especially in the vicinity of the summer solstice, on June 20. Our latest sunset occurs about a week later, on June 27, when the Sun doesn't set until 8:41 p.m. So real darkness doesn't descend until well after 9 p.m.

This summer will also be a good year, weather permitting, for the annual Perseid meteor shower, which will peak on August 12. The planets will play no part in that display, which is best seen after midnight, but even more importantly the waxing moon will set before prime meteor observing time, so the predawn sky will be appropriately dark. Look for a dark location with open skies, open up a lawn chair and look up!

From the University of Wisconsin's "Space Place"
Villager Mall, 2300 S Park Street, Madison

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